Tour of China I & II, 2.2
October 2, 2012

Fourth trip to China in just over a year! Who’d have thought!  Next thing Il be turning Chinese, oh, no I wont.. yeah, I go for racing, but the stark reminder is spitting (as in hoiking up huge lung oysters, even inside buildings, on polished marble floors) and smoking!  I’ve still not managed to find out what’s behind the spitting, I heard it was smog related, but there’s no smog inside buildings (with polished marble floors).. And no, I don’t want to judge, but yeah, I struggle with spitting (like many others who were at these races) and I have to wonder at folk paying no regard to a ‘No Smoking’ sign, or the fact that athletes are around them (the No Smoking signs in particular, like in elevators), as weird as ashtrays in the toilets – for that long dump I guess..then again, throwing your rubbish out of the car window when you’re pulled up at lights.. I don’t get that either.. Im beginning to wonder, really wonder, is it authority that doesn’t have any power.. or is it truly, a disregard for self, others and environment..  Of course, yes, I still meet amazing people there and love the sights (and rate chinese medicine, but cant go for acupuncture in a clinic that has ….  an over flowing ashtray by the treatment table.. eeesh!)

So, the racing.. well, as per usual on tour, the days all roll into one, the stages, the cities.. you’re on auto pilot and the days pass.  I always have the intention to write daily updates, but the reality is, that doesn’t happen.

I was there this year, with RusVelo.  Great team, great time.. actually, I cant remember much of the  first tour 😮  I can remember where we had our rest days, (who could forget, everyone was gutted when they saw the hotel rooms, a total step down from what we’d had in the lead up).  It was in the city of ‘Wuhan’.  Two rest days, Wuhaaaa! (bit of Busta Rhymes there <3)  Bit of shopping, and a small look around. Wandering, a  bad foot massage (thank god the ashtray in that room wasn’t over flowing, but the tinny, Chinese television channel I coulda done without).  I visited the Temple of the Golden Crane, apparently so so so famous, as it was much written about by famous poets, back in the day.  Yeah, it was pretty cool, but I had to bail out from the  group of race volunteers I was with and head back to the hotel.  And Chinese taxis, that’s another experience!! Apparently, the pays that low that the drivers have to do incredibly long shifts – so, they say they have to ‘drive the way they do, cos it’s a) China and because theyre b) tired!

The Tour of China II was circuit races and transfers! Yep, that’s what that week rolled into.  One hotel we stayed at was pretty cool – all eco friendly, solar powered etc.  and it was really nice after the brothel we’d had the night before (I don’t tend to complain too much about hotels, they are what they are and we only sleep a night (usually), but the smell of vomit right outside our door was a bit too much, and getting black feet from not wearing shoes / slippers inside.. eesh!)

The startlist was:

Andalucia (Spain)

RusVelo (Russia)

Team Type 1 (USA)

Champion System (Hong Kong)

Rabobank (Holland)

ISD Lampre (Ukraine)

Tusnad (actually, I don’t know where theyre from! It was a mixed team from eastern Europe)

Cristina Watches (Denmark – thanks again to their amazing swannie who did awesome trigger point acupuncture on me!)

Atlas – (Switzerland)

Salcano – (Turkey)

Nutrixxion – (Germany)

BMC – (USA)

Australian National Team

Terraganu – (Malaysia)

Aisan – (Japan) they had to leave once the ‘fight over the island’ started.  Poor guys, they’d had a stage win to!

Astana – (Kazakhstan)

Uzbekistan Suren – (Uzbekistan (with lots of Iraniana – khaley khoob!!)

China Hong Kong

Action – (Taiwan)

Max Success – (China)

China Hope Star

We had a stage win to!! Leonid the lion.. yay! But the Russian from TT1 was amazing, smashing the sprints every dam day!

Oh, I do remember something from the first Tour – reaching into our ‘bucket of goodies’ for rubbish bags and pulling them out, while my finger ran along the serrated edge of the Glad Wrap L ouch.. it healed really fast though – its bleed was worse than its bite, for sure. Thankfully!!

The best hotel? Crowne Plaza – where the atm in the lobby inhaled my debit car (I took too long looking for something in my wallet, I never knew that happened!) Thanks team manager for letting me have the time (and interpreter) to get the card the next morning and then catch up to the race!  But yeah, the rooms were nice, restaurant, coffee, bar / lounge.. woo hoo!

We had a helo following the race. And at one of the circuit races, everyones set up, preparing / relaxing before the start – using the tents that are provided (no sides, just a roof, one per team) and thanks to our friendly pilot hovering over head for that ‘perfect shot’ the team next to us lost their tent altogether, while a heap of us were rushing to hang on to things.. it was cyclone city for about 2 minutes – wouldn’t a chopper pilot know he has down draft?  😮

Like last year, the Tour started in Xi’an – listed as one of the ‘Four Great Capitals’ of China, because it has been the capital of 13 dynasties.. see! Chinas so full of amazing history, its mind blowing!  Also, the Terracotta Army is here, and im so happy I had the time to see it last year!  The other cities we went to, on both tours, were:

Lantian – dates back to BC379, when the country was established (some 2370 years old!) and famous for being rich in jade.

Shangluo – 240 million peole live in Shangluo and its well known for agricultural products Shangnan Tea, DanFeng wine, Luonan tofu and Chinese herbals

Xiangyang – possesses large water reserves and rich mineral deposits.  Textile production is the mainstay industry, followed closely by machinery manufacture, chemical processing, electronics and construction materials – also the home of Dongfeng Motors.

Zaoyang – ‘labour people are always concerned about the 99 ridges in the river’ – the city area is mainly covered by plains and large ridges (but I don’t recall this city, or plains or ridges).  The hometown of ‘Liuxiu’, (Guangwu Emperor) and the founder of Han Dynasty.  In his 33 years as the emperor, he promoted Confucianism and advocated moral integrity – Chairman Mao spoke highly of Liuxiu.

Wuhan (rest days city) – the trade and financial centre of China, and listed as one of ‘Four Famous Towns’ even 400 years ago, justified by the famous saying ‘All goods sell well in Hunan’.  ‘Yellow Crane Tower’ is here (I visited this tower), first built in three kingdoms period.

Huainan – where the famous book Huainanzi was written and where tofu was invented!

Jining – famous as the hometown of Confucius (BC551 – BC479, tops the list of the world’s 10 Greatest Cultural Celebrities!)  and Mencius (BC372 – BC289, world famous educator and ideologist.  He wrote the book ‘Mencius and carried forward the thoughts of Confucius) and with a history of 7000years (!!!) so, famous as the birth place of Chinese culture also.  An important base for agriculture, coal and minerals.

Dezhou – lies on the main railway route from Beijing to Shanghai, the Jinghu railway.  Famous for the tomb of Sultan Paduka Pahala of Sulu (Philippines) who died here on a return journey, after visiting the Yongle Emperor in 1417.  His tomb has been declared a National Heritage Site.   Dezhou has a new industrial zone – Solar Valley (where our nice, enviro friendly hotel was), being built for experimenting with clean-energy urban projects, good on China! J

Tianjin – finish.  (nothing like last year! This year we had two races in the same place, and even the closing dinner – way out of the city in the middle of nowhere.  Nothing like last years crit in the city centre, with amazing views etc – gutted!)  Tianjin is one of 4 municipalities in China and is a famous international port and ecological city.

We bussed from Tianjin to Beijing for flights.  I flew 2.5 hours to southern Kunming.  I only had 2 hours to get my connecting flight to Chiang Mai (just over an hour) and my flight was delayed leaving Beijing. Yes, I made it, only just!! They had to reopen passport control, for me, and I got to the gate as people were boarding..

And as we were coming in to land, a nice gentleman opposite me hoiked himself up a huge ‘lung oyster’, so big, he spat it into the vomit bag, (yep, you could hear it, chunks n all) and then folded the bag up and put it back into the seat pocket – im not sure which made me gag more – the sound effects or the fact that some cleaner would find that wretched vomit bag..

Thailand feels like home! JImage

Image

ImageImageImage

IRAN, Tour of Azarbaijan
June 10, 2012

Iran, for my third time!  How lucky do I feel!  No, no unsafe, or scared but LUCKY!  Irans a trip, for sure, but I always get so excited about heading over again.  This year, we ran out of luck in that the Tour of Tehran was canned, so, we only went for one race, the Tour of Azarbaijan.  Lesson learnt – for less than two weeks (I was there ten days) you can get a visa on arrival for half of what we paid at the embassy, and the guys that did that breezed through.  So, although we got interrogated at KL airport (and that was strange to, 6 of us checking in, and 2 of us had to wait to speak to some official dude who was representing Iran.  What did he want to know? How much money we had.. and ‘Oh!! You already have visas? No problem’… um yeah, that’s what weve been saying all along for the past 10 minutes?)  anyway, apparently because of nuclear tension (do they make weapons or don’t they) then Iran has been cracking down on visitors.  ‘Especially’ Australians – well! I said as I flashed my passport in this dudes face, that’s ok then, cos Im a kiwi! Hehe So,2  of us had to run to passport control, through security and then down to the gate, with minutes to spare!  Don’t like that sort of pre-travel stress!

We were flying with Air Asia again, have to admit, theres nothing wrong with the airbuses they use for long haul, seats aren’t too crammed, the meal was ok.. however, within seconds of getting on the plane there was ‘Iranian confusion’ – and older guy infront of me was annoyed that there were bags in the overhead locker above him and what about if his wife wanted to put her bag up there and then use it during the flight – the result, about 5 guys all in on this problem.. the result? Old guy sat down again, hed let it slide.  I moved from behind him to an empty seat opposite him – I got a lot of smiles from him and his wife, during the flight.

Arrived in Iran, head scarves on and time to disembark.  Flew through customs, got our bags ok and thought id had two of my besties come to the airport to meet me – and I managed to quickly get a sim card, we were hurried on to our next stop, the bus station. No surprises there, we were going to be put on an overnight bus bound for Tabriz.  One surprise – we got to the bus, got onboard and then were ‘told’ we had bought one too many people from what we booked, what?!?! Problem solved, the jump seat next to the driver!

I have to admit, I don’t like that drive, cos its so long, but a herbal sleeper helped and I saw the sunrise through the window, which was a nice touch of scene setting for arrival into Tabriz.

We had to change from our big bus, at the bus depot on the outskirts of Tabriz, to a smaller, local bus – complete with dirty interior, ripped seats and a driver that smoked in the bus… but it wasn’t for long.  The hotel was another big race hotel, with the standard huge, gilded lobby.  Actually the rooms were pretty good to, and bed was welcomed, until I got the phone call telling me I was needed for the technical meeting.. WHAT?! Im not the manager this year!!! So, I was woken up so got up.  Met our French manager Yves, and his trusty side-kick, our French mechanic Angels.  Off to the meeting we went.  I flagged the mangers meeting later in the day, I was so ready for sleep it was beyond belief – after the opening ceremony, which is never a quick affair.

We met our team interpreter at lunch time, Golamreza, whose English was amazing and he proved to be such a great guy to have on the team.

And the rest of the week was a blur of stages!! I was in the van, not the managers car, so I didn’t see much of the action – except for day one, when the vans ended up stuck behind the race, and then cat and moused their way along the roads, behind the convoy, but at one point we WERE the convoy – time to listen, slow down and get back behind the race!! That stage they had a rescue helo following the race, its by far the biggest, most impressive looking rescue helicopter Ive ever seen! Amazing!

Mid way through the tour was National Womens day – a day to celebrate monthers , women, girls, sisters etc.  There was 3 of us ladies on the tour this year – myself, the manager of the team from Paraguay and a lady from Taiwan who owns the helmet company that was a sponsor of the event.  We were all presented, in a small, private ceremony, with a box of local chocolates and a handmade bag.  Wicked! Thanks! J

Azarbaijan is windy, and this tour there was little resplite. Some days it was amzing what the winds got up to.  Wowsers!  Makes the notorious Tour of Southland look like a sea breeze.

The Laleh Hotel in Sarein, I remember from the year before (and maybe in 08 as well?) and I received the warmest welcome ever! They definitely remember me from last year.

Stage 5 finished at ‘Sahand’ which was basically a 3000m summit finish, at a ski field! And we us soigeurs arrived, it was snowing!  No ones prepared for that in a summer race – we were huddled inside the ski lodge drinking tea and chatting.  A wait of about 3 hours till the riders started trickling in.  Trickle in they did, some collapsed at the finish line (the climb was around 30km), but for others, they made it look easy, however, those of us at the finish line stepped in and helped each rider after they crossed the line by pushing them up the road to their cars.  Its where I ‘did a calf’, I still don’t even know what I did, exactly, but I had gone up to the line for my rider, and as I went to walk him up the road, something ‘pinged’ in my leg and I couldn’t walk on it!! It was also my introduction to kinesiotape (thanks race doc!) which blew me away!!  Big  fan now!

So, for the last stage, I was at the hotel.  Along with OCBC from Singapore, they were all out of the race, so, we set off to explore the Tabriz bazaar – the biggest, and oldest from the Silk Route, apparently.  I have been before, but its still amazing to see!  And it was a nice way to spend a morning.

So the racing.. yeah, well, like I say, I didn’t see a lot of it! Dukhla Praha were mega strong, of course Azad and TPT from Iran were strong, my guys rode well… some good racing!! One stage, they were sitting on 26km an hour, because of the wind!  I told you it was windy!

This year, much to my astonishment, we were not put on a bus the night the race finished, for that arduous drive to Tehran! Yes, we got to sleep in the hotel!! We were leaving at 8am the next day, but that was more like 9.30 am local time.. J and it took 12 hours to get to Tehran.  Apparently the driver wasn’t even sure where he was taking us?  But, it was to the airport, to deliver our Frenchies and the OCBC team.  And it was as we dropped them off, that I got a phone call from a friend in Iran saying that we did NOT have a booking at Azadi Sports Complex, for accommodation… L  anyway, thanks to some quick thinking and a few phone calls, we got beds at a hotel not far from Azadi, that was the race hotel for Tour of Tehran the year before, SCORE! (thanks Alireza and Ali).  And so began my two nights in Tehran.  Welcome nights sleep that first night, and then a day with Alireza the next day, choice! Actually, we didn’t do a hell of a lot! Coffee, money exchange and then lunch! That evening, I was picked up by another friend, Zara, and we drove back to her house.. yay! A was finally going to get a night in an Iranian house!  The drive back was interesting, never, ever, EVER underestimate the traffic you may encounter in Tehran.  The place is massive, its beyond belief!  Part of the trip took us down a ‘strip’ of road that is renown for being a ‘pick up’ spot!! Seriously! And it was so entertaining, we did two laps!! You drive with your windows down and the offers come a-flying.  Especially with me, the foreigner, in the car, who doesn’t wear a regular hijab (I have my own system of head-scarfing).  I haven’t laughed so much in so long!

It was a late late night.  What a beautiful family – mother and three 20 something daughters.  We had an Iranian feast for dinner, at around midnight, and it was nearer 2am when we all went to bed.

The next day was a late start, but we did go out for lunch, which was beautiful – and in a restaurant that I went to last year with a different friend! Talk about feeling like a local!

Which brings me to a couple of things about Iran.  Yes, I have to cover up.  For me, I make my own system though, which means a scarf tied over my head, as opposed to under the chin and t shirt with thai fisherman pants, but I drape a pashmina over my shoulders.  Works so well for me!  But yes, causes a bit of a stir – especially this year, apparently a pair of my pants was too short and I was disrespecting security.. umm ok.

And he food, WOW is all I can say about Iranian food. They really have it good! And it shows, in the distinct LACK of obesity, which I really noticed.  They have their complex carbs, but theyre not staples in the diet, and theres plenty of meat (lamb and chicken) and good fats – butter, cream (the cream is just divine), oils.. im sure they even have less processed foods available than some other places Ive been to. And Iran is all about home cooking, mother cooks (generally).  Iv always found some of their cuisine a bit ‘samey’ before, but not this time. This time I was almost counting down the times to eat LAMB!! J

And that took me close to the time I needed to get a taxi to the airport.  I went back to the hotel to meet the other guys from the team who were leaving with me.  That was an uneventful trip to the airport, followed by an uneventful check-in and an uneventful departure!!

Rock on Iran, see you next year – in’shallah!!

IRAN, Tour of Azarbiajan
June 10, 2012

Iran, for my third time!  How lucky do I feel!  No, no unsafe, or scared but LUCKY!  Irans a trip, for sure, but I always get so excited about heading over again.  This year, we ran out of luck in that the Tour of Tehran was canned, so, we only went for one race, the Tour of Azarbaijan.  Lesson learnt – for less than two weeks (I was there ten days) you can get a visa on arrival for half of what we paid at the embassy, and the guys that did that breezed through.  So, although we got interrogated at KL airport (and that was strange to, 6 of us checking in, and 2 of us had to wait to speak to some official dude who was representing Iran.  What did he want to know? How much money we had.. and ‘Oh!! You already have visas? No problem’… um yeah, that’s what weve been saying all along for the past 10 minutes?)  anyway, apparently because of nuclear tension (do they make weapons or don’t they) then Iran has been cracking down on visitors.  ‘Especially’ Australians – well! I said as I flashed my passport in this dudes face, that’s ok then, cos Im a kiwi! Hehe So,2  of us had to run to passport control, through security and then down to the gate, with minutes to spare!  Don’t like that sort of pre-travel stress!

We were flying with Air Asia again, have to admit, theres nothing wrong with the airbuses they use for long haul, seats aren’t too crammed, the meal was ok.. however, within seconds of getting on the plane there was ‘Iranian confusion’ – and older guy infront of me was annoyed that there were bags in the overhead locker above him and what about if his wife wanted to put her bag up there and then use it during the flight – the result, about 5 guys all in on this problem.. the result? Old guy sat down again, hed let it slide.  I moved from behind him to an empty seat opposite him – I got a lot of smiles from him and his wife, during the flight.

 

Arrived in Iran, head scarves on and time to disembark.  Flew through customs, got our bags ok and thought id had two of my besties come to the airport to meet me – and I managed to quickly get a sim card, we were hurried on to our next stop, the bus station. No surprises there, we were going to be put on an overnight bus bound for Tabriz.  One surprise – we got to the bus, got onboard and then were ‘told’ we had bought one too many people from what we booked, what?!?! Problem solved, the jump seat next to the driver!

I have to admit, I don’t like that drive, cos its so long, but a herbal sleeper helped and I saw the sunrise through the window, which was a nice touch of scene setting for arrival into Tabriz.

We had to change from our big bus, at the bus depot on the outskirts of Tabriz, to a smaller, local bus – complete with dirty interior, ripped seats and a driver that smoked in the bus… but it wasn’t for long.  The hotel was another big race hotel, with the standard huge, gilded lobby.  Actually the rooms were pretty good to, and bed was welcomed, until I got the phone call telling me I was needed for the technical meeting.. WHAT?! Im not the manager this year!!! So, I was woken up so got up.  Met our French manager Yves, and his trusty side-kick, our French mechanic Angels.  Off to the meeting we went.  I flagged the mangers meeting later in the day, I was so ready for sleep it was beyond belief – after the opening ceremony, which is never a quick affair.

We met our team interpreter at lunch time, Golamreza, whose English was amazing and he proved to be such a great guy to have on the team. 

 

And the rest of the week was a blur of stages!! I was in the van, not the managers car, so I didn’t see much of the action – except for day one, when the vans ended up stuck behind the race, and then cat and moused their way along the roads, behind the convoy, but at one point we WERE the convoy – time to listen, slow down and get back behind the race!! That stage they had a rescue helo following the race, its by far the biggest, most impressive looking rescue helicopter Ive ever seen! Amazing!

 

Mid way through the tour was National Womens day – a day to celebrate monthers , women, girls, sisters etc.  There was 3 of us ladies on the tour this year – myself, the manager of the team from Paraguay and a lady from Taiwan who owns the helmet company that was a sponsor of the event.  We were all presented, in a small, private ceremony, with a box of local chocolates and a handmade bag.  Wicked! Thanks! J

 

Azarbaijan is windy, and this tour there was little resplite. Some days it was amzing what the winds got up to.  Wowsers!  Makes the notorious Tour of Southland look like a sea breeze. 

The Laleh Hotel in Sarein, I remember from the year before (and maybe in 08 as well?) and I received the warmest welcome ever! They definitely remember me from last year. 

 

Stage 5 finished at ‘Sahand’ which was basically a 3000m summit finish, at a ski field! And we us soigeurs arrived, it was snowing!  No ones prepared for that in a summer race – we were huddled inside the ski lodge drinking tea and chatting.  A wait of about 3 hours till the riders started trickling in.  Trickle in they did, some collapsed at the finish line (the climb was around 30km), but for others, they made it look easy, however, those of us at the finish line stepped in and helped each rider after they crossed the line by pushing them up the road to their cars.  Its where I ‘did a calf’, I still don’t even know what I did, exactly, but I had gone up to the line for my rider, and as I went to walk him up the road, something ‘pinged’ in my leg and I couldn’t walk on it!! It was also my introduction to kinesiotape (thanks race doc!) which blew me away!!  Big  fan now!

 

So, for the last stage, I was at the hotel.  Along with OCBC from Singapore, they were all out of the race, so, we set off to explore the Tabriz bazaar – the biggest, and oldest from the Silk Route, apparently.  I have been before, but its still amazing to see!  And it was a nice way to spend a morning.

 

So the racing.. yeah, well, like I say, I didn’t see a lot of it! Dukhla Praha were mega strong, of course Azad and TPT from Iran were strong, my guys rode well… some good racing!! One stage, they were sitting on 26km an hour, because of the wind!  I told you it was windy!

 

This year, much to my astonishment, we were not put on a bus the night the race finished, for that arduous drive to Tehran! Yes, we got to sleep in the hotel!! We were leaving at 8am the next day, but that was more like 9.30 am local time.. J and it took 12 hours to get to Tehran.  Apparently the driver wasn’t even sure where he was taking us?  But, it was to the airport, to deliver our Frenchies and the OCBC team.  And it was as we dropped them off, that I got a phone call from a friend in Iran saying that we did NOT have a booking at Azadi Sports Complex, for accommodation… L  anyway, thanks to some quick thinking and a few phone calls, we got beds at a hotel not far from Azadi, that was the race hotel for Tour of Tehran the year before, SCORE! (thanks Alireza and Ali).  And so began my two nights in Tehran.  Welcome nights sleep that first night, and then a day with Alireza the next day, choice! Actually, we didn’t do a hell of a lot! Coffee, money exchange and then lunch! That evening, I was picked up by another friend, Zara, and we drove back to her house.. yay! A was finally going to get a night in an Iranian house!  The drive back was interesting, never, ever, EVER underestimate the traffic you may encounter in Tehran.  The place is massive, its beyond belief!  Part of the trip took us down a ‘strip’ of road that is renown for being a ‘pick up’ spot!! Seriously! And it was so entertaining, we did two laps!! You drive with your windows down and the offers come a-flying.  Especially with me, the foreigner, in the car, who doesn’t wear a regular hijab (I have my own system of head-scarfing).  I haven’t laughed so much in so long! 

 

It was a late late night.  What a beautiful family – mother and three 20 something daughters.  We had an Iranian feast for dinner, at around midnight, and it was nearer 2am when we all went to bed. 

The next day was a late start, but we did go out for lunch, which was beautiful – and in a restaurant that I went to last year with a different friend! Talk about feeling like a local!

 

Which brings me to a couple of things about Iran.  Yes, I have to cover up.  For me, I make my own system though, which means a scarf tied over my head, as opposed to under the chin and t shirt with thai fisherman pants, but I drape a pashmina over my shoulders.  Works so well for me!  But yes, causes a bit of a stir – especially this year, apparently a pair of my pants was too short and I was disrespecting security.. umm ok. 

And he food, WOW is all I can say about Iranian food. They really have it good! And it shows, in the distinct LACK of obesity, which I really noticed.  They have their complex carbs, but theyre not staples in the diet, and theres plenty of meat (lamb and chicken) and good fats – butter, cream (the cream is just divine), oils.. im sure they even have less processed foods available than some other places Ive been to. And Iran is all about home cooking, mother cooks (generally).  Iv always found some of their cuisine a bit ‘samey’ before, but not this time. This time I was almost counting down the times to eat LAMB!! J 

 

And that took me close to the time I needed to get a taxi to the airport.  I went back to the hotel to meet the other guys from the team who were leaving with me.  That was an uneventful trip to the airport, followed by an uneventful check-in and an uneventful departure!!

 

Rock on Iran, see you next year – in’shallah!!